Bringing Hero Home: Soldier's Puppy Gives Hope to Grieving Family


"It had become our life, and then I was like, oh my God, he's leaving. And that's when I had broken down, and there's a picture of us where he's sort of trying to talk me out of being upset," said Brittney.

"They were embracing, that was the last time that we saw him alive," said Skip Rollins, Justin's father.

No one knew in that moment that it was their last moment with Justin. In fact, Justin was making plans to propose to Brittney.

"On the last phone call that he called home, he said I want to take her to Tiffany's and pick out a diamond for her. So I knew my son was going to propose to his girlfriend," said Rhonda.

In March 2007, two weeks before Justin could come home, he made an intriguing phone call to Brittney from his Iraqi base camp.

"He was like, I got some really great pictures, and I can't wait for you to see them. I didn't know what was going to be in it," recalls Brittney.

The mysterious pictures would arrive by email the next day. But by then, Justin Rollins would be dead.

"I remember he said I love you twice to me that night, and that was the last time that I heard from him," said Brittney.

"At six thirty in the morning I was getting ready for work, and I felt a jolt just go right through me. And instinctively I thought of Justin, and I thought, boy, I hope everything's OK, it just was the weirdest feeling I've ever had. And went to work, went on my day, and had no more thoughts of this at all," Rhonda recalled.

"I had the afternoon off. I looked out the window, and I saw a car come up the driveway. Two officers in uniform," said Skip. "I remember what they said to me that day, 'Mr. Rollins, we regret to inform you that your son Justin Rollins was killed in action early today.' You just go empty, you die on the inside."

Adding to their despair was Brittney's broken heart.

"My mom called me, and she goes, Brittney, he's gone. I ended up passing out shortly after I had found out," said Brittney.

"It was hard for my own heart to be broken, and my family's, but to see this little girl that just loved my son so much, it, it really was very, very difficult," Rhonda recalled.

As family and friends were grieving together, something beautiful happens that changes this story forever.

"It was late in the night And I pulled up my email, and Rhonda, I just remember she goes, oh my God, look at his smile, look at his, how happy he is," Brittney said.

The pictures were of Justin, a big solider, playing with puppies small enough to fit in his hand.

"It was just so nice because they were just the day before. It felt like he was still real, he was still here," said Brittney.

Jason Wheeler remembers the night Iraqi police alerted his platoon that some puppies were living in a very strange place.

"They say, hey, there are some puppies on the old port-a-john, which was like a toilet. There's, like, eight puppies laying underneath the toilet. So, we started playing with them, and that's, that's where all the pictures came from that night, that was the night before Justin got killed."

Those sweet images were still on Rhonda's mind when, less than two weeks later, Justin's body was flown home for burial. As customary, Army brass attended the funeral and asked the family what it could do to help.

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